fireworks Independence Day

Andy Hayes doesn’t know how many families will show up at 7:30 a.m. Saturday, July 3, for the 22nd annual Fourth of July Children’s Parade co-sponsored by the Mountain Park Ranch HOA and the Ahwatukee Foothills Chamber of Commerce.

“It could be 100, it could be 300,” said Hayes, the Chamber executive director.

Regardless, he’s prepared: Local businesses – like Cold Brews and Cheeseburgers, CKs, Dairy Queen, Andy’s Frozen Custard, Native, to name a few – have given him 1,000 gift cards and gift certificates.

He’ll be giving them out as prizes for best decorated tricycle, scooter, wagon and bicycle, best-dressed family, best baby carriage and other entries – decorated in red, white and blue, of course.

After gathering at 7:30 a.m. Saturday at Foothills Baptist Church, 15450 S. 21st St., Ahwatukee, a Phoenix Police or Fire Department escort will lead the youngsters and their families at 8 a.m. for a quarter mile downhill to Thunderhill Park, 2578 E. Thunderhill Place near Ray Road, where there will be free hot dogs, Sno Cones, bounce houses, super slides and DJ as well as any non-alcoholic beverage you want.

And, of course, anyone can attend.

The parade is the only organized Independence Day celebration in Ahwatukee.

And it will not involve fireworks.

This year marks the fifth anniversary of the last Ahwatukee July 4 fireworks show, which capped an evening of bounce houses, bands and other entertainment that comprised the Chamber’s Red White and Boom! celebration.

Up through 2016, fireworks had been an Ahwatukee tradition, started by developer Randall Presley in 1974.

Ahwatukee Realtor Chad Chadderton said the first few shows were modest affairs held at Ahwatukee Country Club and funded by Presley or other contractors.

In 1987, the lights went out: there was no show and that didn’t sit well with Chadderton and Clay Schad, the founder and long-time owner of the Ahwatukee Foothills News.

"We were on my back patio and I don’t know if we were having a beer or something but we commented how it was a shame that we had this tradition and it was gone,” Chadderton recalled.

“Then Clay said, ‘why don’t you do the show?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know anything about fireworks.’”

But Schad went on to say he would use the newspaper and his own contacts in the community and rally residents and businesses to open their wallets and bring Fourth of July fireworks back to Ahwatukee.

“So I contacted Fireworks Productions and I started learning about fireworks,” Chadderton said.

“The way Clay arranged it, if you gave $7, your name went under the booster club in the paper,” he continued. “If they gave $25, then your name went under the Big Shot Club and if you gave $100, that was the Centennial Club and you got passes to the VIP party.”

Chadderton organized and ran the fireworks show from 1989 through 1998.

In that time, the show became the third largest in Arizona, thanks to the support not only of local businesses but also that of the Stout family, which owned Fireworks Productions.

Chadderton bowed out after 1998.

The Ahwatukee Foothills Chamber of Commerce came to the rescue and over most years, it sponsored Red White and Boom! either at the Ahwatuke Country Club or the Foothills Country Club.

As time went on, Chamber leadership worked hard to raise enough money for a longer and bigger show.

It eventually moved the festivities to Pecos Park, the scene of the last Red White and Boom! in 2016.

The only time the show was a bust was in 2014, when a ferocious windstorm forced organizers to cancel fireworks.

Under a partly overcast sky in 2016, hundreds attended the pre-fireworks party at Pecos. Kids frolicked in giant bounce houses and slides, families made the rounds of food vendors and danced to the music of several live bands.

Thousands later brought blankets and lawn chairs to watch the display.

Little did anyone realize that after 41 years, it would be the last time fireworks would light up the sky over Ahwatukee on Independence Day.

The next year, then Chamber President/CEO Lindy Lutz Cash announced it was giving up.

“The cost is escalating, the logistics are getting more complicated and city permits are getting more expensive,” Lutz Cash said at the time. “We’re saddened by the situation and we wish it was not the case, but it is what it is.”

Even if the Chamber had held “Boom!” that year, it would have had to move the celebration out of Ahwatukee because the South Mountain Freeway construction eliminated the fireworks staging area.

That had been the original plan ­– until an organization that initially had offered to co-sponsor the celebration with the Chamber abruptly pulled out, leaving the organization without enough time to scramble and find a new supporter.

Cash said that long before she became its executive chief, the Chamber had decided it couldn’t afford to sponsor the celebration.

Former Chamber board chair Martha Neese said the show in 2016 cost north of $50,000 – well beyond the means of an organization that counted maybe 500 or so members.

Neese and Cash Lutz said there were “increasing costs in all aspects of planning” – though they said city permits were particularly astronomical.

Additionally, liability insurance premiums were escalating.

And that was one of the reasons why the fireworks could not find a new home at any of the golf courses in Ahwatukee anymore.

The Chamber issued a formal statement that noted how it had overcome many obstacles in its long sponsorship of the fireworks.

“With increasing costs in all aspects of planning, a sharp reduction in potential site locations and significant liability issues,” it continued, “the Chamber must pass the torch as the host to another organization.”

This year, the pandemic still looms over most fireworks shows that Ahwatukee residents can travel to see.

Neither Tempe – which traditionally sponsored one of the region’s biggest July 4 fireworks shows – nor Phoenix are holding a show.

Likewise, none of the area Native American tribes are holding fireworks shows, including Rawhide, Talking Stick or Casino Arizona.

And many of the other shows closest to Ahwatukee are carrying the same pandemic restrictions they did last year.

That means those who attend the 9 p.m. show Saturday, July 3, at Fiesta Mall in Mesa or the 9 p.m. Sunday, July 4, display at Tumbleweed Park, 745 E. Germann Road, Chandler, must stay in or very close to their vehicle.

The only “normal” celebration will be sponsored by Gilbert at its Regional Park, 3005 E. Queen Creek Road, Gilbert.

For the first time, Gilbert will hold its fireworks spectacular at Gilbert Regional Park, 3005 E. Queen Creek Road, where activities will take place at the amphitheater and great lawn.

Gilbert is not requiring spectators to stay in or near their vehicles when the park opens at 5:30 p.m. Sunday.

Then, from 7:15-8:45 p.m., live entertainment will be provided by Garth Live, a group featuring Drew Baloh, who, according to his publicist, “has an uncanny resemblance to legendary country music icon Garth Brooks.” He’ll be performing the mega-star’s hits.

Fireworks will begin at 8:45 p.m. weather permitting, and will last 20 minutes and throughout the evening. But throughout the evening, food trucks will be on-site, though outside food – except for alcoholic beverages – is permitted.

While people can bring water and lawn chairs, they are not allowed to bring pets, glass containers, canopies, umbrellas or their own fireworks.

Other details are at gilbertaz.gov/july4th

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